Two Ten Train Words & Music by Linda Albertano & Tom Campbell
I've mentioned that the first songwriting we did was closer to the folk process than to Tin Pan Alley. Tin Pan Alley, of course was the district in New York centered around West 28th Street, where publishers would ply their trade in the early days of the last century. Writers like Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Dorothy Fields and George M. Cohan would crank out songs on every topic — mostly boy meets girl, but then patriotic songs when they were called for and songs for when the boys came home, songs for musicals and songs for record artists.
My own odyssey eventually took me to the major publishers, but I started with folk songs. The folk revival produced plenty of good influences: Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Odetta, The Carter Family, Harry Belafonte, The New Lost City Ramblers, Josh White, even Burl Ives. Carolyn Hester was also an influence and later went on to record "Two Ten Train."
Tom Campbell and Linda Albertano and I started showing our efforts to each other and collaborating in twos and threes very early in the game. This song is one that Tom and Linda wrote. I think I had something to do with its evolution musically, and I believe I filled out the copyright form, but the song has moved into its own incarnation of the folk process and has found many interpreters. The folk process refers to the natural give and take of traditional music sung and played in families and communities, and to some extent free of the influence of what was to become the corporate media.
There were large migrations out of the South after the Civil War, and World War I as well. World War II caused a similar disruption and scattering of communities. Cultural elements like regional music were transplanted and took root in some of the more urban settings. At the same time political and social movements adopted folk songs as part of their outreach as well as their grounding in the confirmation of the American identity. It might be that folk music could be defined as simply non-commercial music, music of community and family and tribal history that changes when it's conscripted to the need to earn money, or really any purpose other than the simple celebration of our shared story.
Participants in the folk revival, and I include us, have walked back and forth across that line, sometimes finding a traditional song or song element that would serve our needs to perform and record, and yet finding inspiration in the true nature of our tribal heritage of song and story. Inspiration that is ennobling, not just enriching. Our generation was the first to have the wealth of recorded music to draw from as these folk resources became available to us.
Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger were among those who came out of the political movements of the Depression days. Each of them in his own way adapted traditional songs to engage an audience but also to promote a vision of common cause and anti-war ideals. Others were collectors with more of a preservation priority. Going all the way back to the work of Francis James Child in the 1880s, his collection of ballads from the British tradition is a wonderful resource. Bob Copper, Cecil Sharp, John Jacob Niles, and Vermont's Helen Hartness Flanders all preserved songs from the deep past.
John Lomax, and later his son Alan traveled and collected cowboy songs, songs of the sea, songs of the prisons and chain gangs and published several books beginning with "American Ballads and Folk Songs" in 1935. Alan Lomax said he believed it would be "unethical to stand idly by as the magnificent variety of the world's cultures and languages was 'grayed out' by centralized commercial entertainment and educational systems." They left a collection of thousands of tapes, films and articles to the American Folklife Archive of the Library of Congress. And they brought Huddie Ledbetter (Lead Belly) to prominence which yielded "Goodnight Irene," "The Midnight Special" and "The Rock Island Line."
In 1952, Folkways Records released the "Anthology of American Folk Music," compiled by anthropologist Harry Smith. The anthology featured 84 songs by traditional country and blues artists, initially recorded between 1927 and 1932, and was credited with making a large amount of pre-War material accessible to younger musicians. We have that collection on our shelf today.
The Carter Family was a very successful musical trio who sang the traditional songs of Appalachia and the deep South with no overt political message other than the celebration of their Southern Christian heritage. They had been 'discovered' by Ralph Peer, a music business professional who sought out musicians who preserved the traditions of the Appalachian regions. Likewise, Hank Williams was mentored by Fred Rose, another refugee from Tin Pan Alley, in that same salt and pepper mixture of business and song.
The Kingston Trio found their version of "Tom Dooley" in Frank and Anne Warner's collection. The Warners had learned the song from Frank Proffitt, who learned it from his Aunt Nancy Prather, whose parents had known both Laura Foster and Tom Dula. After the Kingston Trio elevated the commercial stakes for folk performers, there was an increase in the number of people who were creating music based on traditional elements. The question of copyright brought its own headaches to this process, but that's a topic for another time.
When President Eisenhower left office in 1961, he gave us a few final words, warning of the unwarranted influence of the military-industrial complex. Our generation was just beginning to question the unwarranted influence of the corporate media — the commercialization of just about every form of art. And for many, the folk music revival was a breath of fresh air. Songs that could take up real life issues without having to conform to the artificial culture that was tailored to sell toothpaste and deodorant and images of consumerist lifestyles.
Of course, that's an oversimplification and perhaps an unwarranted assertion, but it did seem that we were seeking something more authentic. I remember one teenage girl saying, Ohhhhh, how ethnic! Looking back I'm less inclined to make fun of her than to recognize how much it meant to us to have a wider view than was allowed us by Madison Avenue. And as we know now, the agencies packaged and sold just about every TV drama, variety show and network radio playlist.
This commodification even extended to major motion pictures which made those foreign films seem so exciting and unbridled. Again, 'authentic' is a term that I would apply. Some of this goes all the way back to Walter Lippman and Edward Bernays and their seeking to 'manufacture consent,' but that's a topic for another article as well.
One last note taken from Wikipedia; "Alan Lomax was a consultant to Carl Sagan for the Voyager Golden Record sent into space on the 1977 Voyager Spacecraft to represent the music of the earth. Music he helped choose included the blues, jazz, and rock 'n' roll of Blind Willie Johnson, Louis Armstrong, and Chuck Berry; Andean panpipes and Navajo chants; Azerbaijani mugham performed by two balaban players, a Sicilian sulfur miner's lament; polyphonic vocal music from the Mbuti Pygmies of Zaire, and the Georgians of the Caucasus; and a shepherdess song from Bulgaria by Valya Balkanska; in addition to Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, and more."
My joke is that years later a message came through from deep space. It took scientists months to decipher it, but eventually they came up with the translation, it said, "More Chuck Berry."
So Tom and Linda and I were swimming in the rich sea of collected folk music which was spilling out of our FM radios and record stores as the small labels began to navigate the market place. It was a burgeoning time, and exciting time.
Some of the elements of the song are from traditional sources. The one that has most often come to mind is a very old song called "Shorty George." It contains the line, "He's taken all the women and left the men behind." The idea that it referred to an engineer on a train was a connection that Tom and Linda made which got them started on their casting of the song. The train and prison connection could also be attributed to traditional songs like "The Midnight Special," again a Lead Belly influence.
For me the chords are the distinctive feature of the song. Again using 'borrowed' chords from related keys, the chords set the melody off in a context of unexpected notes that give it a strong bluesy character. The video of Dan Holloway playing his arrangement with the guitar tuned to DADGAD gives some very pleasing permutations of those unexpected notes in the melody and the accompaniment.
Linda Ronstadt took the song into a torchy territory and to another level of blues mystique. My own version tended to emphasize the syncopation of the finger picking sequences that I developed from imitating guitarists like Elizabeth Cotton, Reverend Gary Davis, Steve Mann, Dick Rosmini, Lead Belly, Mississippi John Hurt, Merle Travis, Chet Atkins, John Fahey, and others exploring the drop-thumb cadences of right hand technique.
The use of a more 'modal' approach to the harmony of the song is the thing that I think sets it apart. To play along with my version, you will need to tune the guitar to standard tuning, and then put the capo on the third fret. And, one thing that so many people seem to forget, after placing the capo you will need to check your tuning again, since the capo distorts the strings enough to affect the tuning.
I use the fingering of the key of A, but raised up to the third fret it turns out to be in C. You could just play in C which would mean using the chords, C, F, Bb, and Cminor. Of course you might sing it in a lower or higher key, so that will determine capo position and chord choices.
For the purpose of this explanation let us assume that we are playing in A without the capo. Starting simply with the tonic chord, the I, in my case an A, the song goes to the IV chord, the D, but then it leaves the key to progress to the G major chord, which is best understood as the IV chord of the key of the original IV chord, or the four of the four.
This song employs elements of the blues scales. There are several variants, and it might be good to consult an explanation of how blues scales differ from normal major and minor scales. But for this song, the most striking feature is the flatted seventh degree of the scale. If we were to stay in the key of A major, the chord based on the seventh scale degree would be built on the G#, and would be a diminished chord since it would be made up of the G#, B and D. But by using the flatted seventh, the G natural, the chord becomes G major. For clarification of this issue refer to the basic theory of triads and how they are built on each note of the scale.
In a similar way, when the song moves up to the second half of the verse form, it begins on the D (the normal IV chord in the key of A), but then moves to the G, the borrowed chord, and then boldly moves up to another borrowed chord, the Am with a D note on the open fourth string. The two smallest fingers of the left hand move up to the fifth fret of the first and third strings, leaving the second and fourth strings open, and not playing the fifth or sixth strings in this pattern. The chord that's created is dissonant, it allows the open fourth string to sound its note throughout the passage which holds tension. So this section goes D to G to Am/D to G and then back to the beginning of the next verse at A.
This scheme allows for a bass run, which I think is another distinctive feature of the song, and has made it an interesting song to learn and perform. That is the bass line created by starting with the open E string on the A chord, then the F# on the second fret of the E string during the D chord, and then the G on the third fret of the E string, during the G chord and back to the F#. I think this is the point where the song has purchase on the ear which makes it memorable. This is especially apparent in Linda Ronstadt's slow version of the song.
Syncopation is another big feature of the song. Even in the slow version there is something going on with weak beats and strong beats in a way that sets up a hypnotic pulse. In the faster versions, the right hand creates some patterns that emphasize certain notes in the picking sequences, but it's important to find ways to vary those patterns so that monotony doesn't dilute the effect. Over the years my approach to this has evolved. In the early days, I just played the sequences that alternated thumb and fingers in a regular pattern; thumb, finger, thumb, finger.
Then came the variations where the thumb and finger would play together in a pinch that created an emphasis on the downbeat - and then another version that put the emphasis on the back beat. Then finding ways of creating emphasis on other pulses led to more interesting variations. My video on "How to Play the Song Darcy Farrow" Part 2. explains a lot about these right-hand sequences. I also give more examples on the CD, "How to Play Guitar Like I Do." In recent years, some have suggested that I re-title the CD, "How to Play the Guitar Like I Used To." It's territory you'll have to explore for yourself, but it can be very rewarding.
Here's an audio YouTube of Linda Ronstadt's version of the song with the Stone Poneys. Billy Mundi played drums, Bobby Kimmel, Kenny Edwards, Cyrus Faryar, Pete Childs and John Forsha all played guitars, and Jimmy Bond played bass.
Linda Ronstadt with the Stone Poneys
The Irish band The Fenians did a high energy version in a live concert.
The Fenians in a live concert
Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal recorded the song with their band The Rising Sons.
Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal recorded the song with their band The Rising Sons
Jimmy Gaudreau and Moondi Klein sang the song in this YouTube performance.
Jimmy Gaudreau and Moondi Klein perform "Two Ten Train"
I came across this wonderful video of a finger style version of 2:10 Train by Dan C. Holloway. He says, "This arrangement is in DADGAD tuning which works pretty well for this blues tune!"
Dan C. Holloway performs "Two Ten Train"
Here's a Smithsonian Folkways recording of Huddie Ledbetter (Lead Belly) singing his version of the folk song "Shorty George."
Huddie Ledbetter (Lead Belly) singing his version of the folk song "Shorty George."
And here's a new video of my version of "Two Ten Train" from the Redwing CD, "Texas & Tennessee" Mark Schatz plays bass.
Audio from "Texas & Tennessee." Video by Steve
The CD "Texas & Tennessee," is available here.
And here are the lyrics the way we sing it.
Well I woke up this morning, And the sun refused to shine. I knew my baby left me, With a troublin' mind It rains every morning Evening's the same And it's gonna be a long time 'Til I hear the 2:10 train. I looked out my window, And I couldn't keep from cryin' I saw the train a leavin' Take my baby down the line The driver on that engine He ain't no friend of mine Well he's taken all the women And he's left the men behind. Well I won't be leavin' Big Bend, For another seven years Don't you find another baby, To laugh away your tears. When I get back to Houston, I'm gonna shout and tell About how the Big Bend Bottom Is a livin' burning hell. When your lovin' baby leaves you, Well it makes you feel so bad Makes you think about the women, And the good times that you've had Don't leave me down here baby All shackled to a chain Won't you let me ride down with you All on the 2:10 train.
© 1965 Famous Music, ASCAP